This summer the New Orleans Business Alliance released its ProsperityNOLA plan, a comprehensive strategic plan for the economic development of New Orleans over the next five years. The plan focuses its strategy on the development of five distinct clusters that will lay the groundwork for the economic growth of the city: Advanced Manufacturing, Bioinnovation & Health Services, Transportation, Trade & Logistics, Creative Digital Media, and Sustainable Industries. Throughout this series of articles EMH Strategy will be profiling local companies within each of these sectors to show what has made, and what will make, New Orleans the place for companies in these spaces to do business.
For the second post in our ProsperityNOLA cluster series Alison stays in the IP Building to talk with Knud Berthelsen, CEO of Connect+Trade. Although Connect+Trade overlaps with the Creative Digital Media cluster, we are profiling Connect+Trade as an up-and-coming company in the Transportation Trade & Logistics sector, given the company’s emphasis on promoting international trade. (All of you maritime enthusiasts out there, worry not: we plan on speaking with a company that embodies the more “traditional” New Orleans shipping and logistics industries as well). Connect+Trade is a global online marketing firm that provides a global online presence, export strategy, and strategy execution to its clients. The goal of Connect+Trade is to help local businesses sell their products all over the world by leveraging expertise in online marketing and comprehensive knowledge of international markets.
Q (Alison): Why did you start in New Orleans? What advantages do you see to operating your business here?
A (Knud): I initially came to New Orleans to get my MBA at Tulane, and upon graduating, decided to stick around. New Orleans is a great place to start and run a company. It’s a global city that is recognized around the world as a good place to do business, and at the same time entrepreneurs can come here and take advantage of the low cost of living while they are in the young stages of their business. We also strive to help local businesses in New Orleans sell their products across the world. There are some great products coming out of this city, but for the most part they are only being sold in, at most, one other country. We want to help these companies expand their reach
Q (Alison): What disadvantages are there to operating in New Orleans? Do you think anything needs to change to attract more entrepreneurs like you?
A (Knud): I think there are two issues. First are the obvious problems that any New Orleanian would tell you: crime and education. People want to live in a city where they feel safe, and there has to be a strong school system to support the children of our working professionals. The streets could use some work, too. Second, and this is a national issue, we have to have a healthcare system that supports entrepreneurs. I know people who have jobs that provide healthcare, and instead of starting a great new business, they stick with that job because they can’t afford to lose their healthcare by leaving their job to start a new business.The city could also benefit from a unified marketing push, especially to attract immigrant entrepreneurs. Of course that would require immigration reform, but overall pro-immigrant polices would help increase new business creation.
Q (Alison): Have you taken advantage of any tax credits?
A (Knud): We would like to, but haven’t really been able to. We’ve found that the tax credits are really too costly for us to pursue as a startup. A lot of the credits are meant for big projects from big players and are not a good fit for smaller start-ups like ours. For us, working on smaller projects, the costs and the benefits of pursuing the credits don’t really add up.
Our talk with Knud reinforced what we learned from Denis in our first post on the Creative Digital Media cluster: the educational institutions in New Orleans are critical to attracting young talent to the city. While New Orleans might have suffered from a “brain drain” in the past, our graduates are now starting to stick around. This “brain gain” infuses the city with entrepreneurial talent and breeds promising companies like IDScan.net and Connect+Trade. Yet while our universities are an incredible asset, and the city (as Knud stressed) is a great place to start and run a business, we still must tackle the issues of crime and education. The city has made progress, but in order to make the case even stronger as one of the best cities in the country in which to do business, New Orleans and its residents must continue to strive forward on these two fronts.